“What the heck was that about?” Cassie threw up her hands in exasperation. Still, as pissed as she was at me, no swear words would exit her mouth. It amazed me.
I sighed. “I don’t know. That guy just rubbed me the wrong way.”
“Well, I was having a good time. The one time I have the attention of a gorgeous guy, and you have to steal my glory.”
Whoa. That pulled me up short. “Steal your glory? What are you talking about?”
She whirled on me, the alcohol in her system fueling her fury. “You were jealous that Luke picked me over you. I know you wanted his attention. You didn’t want to stay if you were getting any of it.”
I shook my head at her, squinting my eyes in confusion. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re drunk. Hell, we’re both drunk. And you’re not making sense.”
Again, her hands flew into the air. “You always get the attention of the guys when we go out, Ella. Now you’ve got Mr. Dreamy hanging all over you, and you still can’t stand it that a hot guy wanted me instead of you. Why can’t I have just one, huh?”
“Hey, if you want Mr. Danger-rolls-off-me-in-waves in there. Go for it. He just creeps me out. There’s something about him, I don’t know.”
“I haven’t had a man in two years!” she interrupted. “Two years! Oh, it’s been a year for you, but at least you get the attention with your blonde waves and blue eyes. Not to mention your body. You can have any man that walks in, but you get jealous when one wants plain Jane Cassie.”
“Cassie. . .”
“No! Just because your husband is an invalid and can’t satisfy you anymore doesn’t give you first pick of the rest of the men in Summerville. The rest of us women have needs, too.”
“Needs?” I yelled back. “You think this is about my needs? How dare you throw your piddly, carefree life in my face like it’s so hard to be you. I have needs, too, but I don’t act on them because I’m tied to a man I love. And just because he can’t give me what I need. . .” Tears stung and pooled in my eyes, blurring my vision. This had gone way too far, and I was done.
I turned and walked away. Around the corner I dug in my purse for my cell to call a cab. I knew Cassie didn’t mean the things she said. Not really. But that didn’t make the hurt any easier, and, while I had never left her before, she was on her own tonight.
Walking toward the street to meet the cab I kept my head down. And walked smack into a hard, broad, and unyielding male body. Strong arms caught me in my drunken stumble caused by the impact, keeping me on my feet.
“Whoa there. You okay?” Smooth and sweet melted chocolate drenched my ears, flooding my inebriated defenses. I looked up into Dominic’s face, his concerned smile dazzling me.
“Dominic? What are you doing here?”
“I came for a drink, but it seems I’m taking you home instead.” He wrapped his arm around my back and steered me back toward the parking lot.
Not wanting to fight with anyone else tonight, I leaned into him and went willingly.
He helped me into the car. Then he sat on the doorsill and draped his arms around me. “What’s wrong, Ella?”
A sob wracked me. “I had a fight with Cassie,” I told him, dabbing at my eyes.
“A guy.” He tensed. “It was stupid, really. Some hot guy was hitting on her, but he gave me the creeps so I wanted to leave. She blew up on me in the parking lot saying I was jealous because she was getting the attention for once, and why couldn’t I just be happy with having you hanging on me? But she went too far.” I knew I sounded dejected.
“How did she take it too far?” His voice was soft enough to show his concern, but laced with tension.
“She brought Michael into it. She called him an invalid, and said that I think I get first pick of the men in Summerville.” I buried my face in my hands. “I attacked her back, but I couldn’t deal with it. I walked away because she’s right. I have needs and Michael can’t help me with them.”
“That’s doesn’t make her right, Ella. That was a low blow on her part.” The hand kneading my thigh was helping to ease the stress of the fight.
“I don’t think I have first pick of anyone,” I continued. “I don’t even want anyone else. She has self-esteem issues. She was just projecting.”
“Now you’re turning psychologist,” Dominic chuckled.
“You know what I mean,” I whined.
“Yes, I do,” he conceded. “But I have a question.”
I looked at him, waiting.
“You really don’t want anyone else?” His eyes pleaded with me to tell him otherwise.
“Dominic. . .” I leaned close to his face, breathing in the spicy aroma of his cologne. My hands rested on each of his cheeks. The rough sensation of stubble on my skin distracted me, and I had to stop myself when began caressing his jawline. I took a stabilizing breath and met his eyes again. “Dominic, you can’t include yourself in that. You’re different. You know I want you, but it’s just not possible.”
I punctuated my words with a tender kiss on his forehead. Then each temple. Each cheek. My lips becoming more pliable with each warm touch. My lips found his mouth last, capturing the soft flesh and melting into it.
It was beyond my control, drunk as I was. Stressed as I was. Needy as I was. That kiss was my cure for everything that was going wrong.
But Dominic pulled away after a too-brief moment of delicate passion.
“Not like this, Ella,” he sighed, shaking his head. He didn’t have to say why. I understood.
I flopped my head back on the seat.
The warmth and weight abandoned me as Dominic stood and shut the door. When he climbed in the driver’s side, he asked, “Do you want to talk about Cassie?”
I took a deep breath and blew it out in a heavy puff. “There was a guy sending drinks to our table. When he came over, he asked Cassie to dance, but I got bad vibes from him.”
“You already told me that.”
Ignoring him, I plunged on. “Well they danced. I could tell by the way he touched her he only had one thing on his mind. When they came back I told Cassie I wanted to leave. I was probably a bit of a bitch to the guy, but. . .”
“He gave you the creeps. I know.” He smiled at me. “You always were a good judge of character.”
“Yeah, well, Cassie was pissed about the whole thing. She said I couldn’t handle him choosing her over me.” I gave a sarcastic snort. “Like I care. She just has issues with her self-image. She always has. Tonight she turned it on me.” Sitting there, thinking back on it, I wondered if maybe Cassie’s eruption had been lurking under the surface of our friendship. If maybe she resented me because she saw herself as substandard.
“But the guy chose her over you.” Dominic pulled me out of my musing.
“Yeah, but she thinks that’s the reason I wanted to leave.”
Silence seeped around us. Each of us examining what we knew. I leaned back, closed my eyes.
With hesitant resolve, Dominic asked about Luke. “So tell me about this guy.”
“Like what? He had dark hair. Dark eyes. Obviously worked out. He was hot.” I said it casually, like it was no big deal.
“But you thought he was creepy.”
“Hot guys can be creepy, Dominic. He made me think of the devil. Like if Satan walked the streets as a man, Luke would be him.”
“Luke?” His sharp tone had me looking at him.
“Yeah. That was his name. Why?”
“No reason.” But his tense posture said otherwise.
“Think you know him?” I asked.
He glanced at me. The look in his eyes turned my blood to ice. Oh yeah. He knew the mysterious Luke, all right.